That's how writer Howard Chaykin described the new revamped FURY OF S.H.I.E.L.D. monthly series, with its foilcover premiere issue set to ship In February 1995. Fury is back, he assured, only this time the cigar chain-smoking, silver-templed ex-World War 11 hero with an eye-patch and an attitude Is a '60s guy stuck in the '90s.
"One of the elements that I wanted to do with the book was to have S.H.I.E.L.D. find itself in the position of having minimal funding, the way government agencies really do," he said. "It's about a down-sized agency of crime-fighters who have to basically beg, borrow, and steal to get high-tech instruments to compete with organized crime."
As part of the cutbacks and the epitome of '90s political correctness, the government has even ordered Fury to dump his trademark cigar. "He needs government funding and they've insisted that his (health) Insurance rates are too high," Chaykin offered.
"I'm making all the characters around him smoke, just to frustrate him,' added penciler Corky Lehmkuhl, best known for his work on Image's Supreme #25.
In sum, Chaykin and Lehmkuhl plan to deliver a book that cuts the fine line between the excitement of super heroics, the hard edge of crime fiction, and the reality of the '90s political landscape. While set firmly in the Marvel Universe and not as radically revisionist as Chaykin's Blackhawk (or The Shadow (for DC), Chaykin and Lehmkuhl's take on Nick Fury works hard to light a fire under a character who was once one of Marvel's most popular.
In 1963, Stan Lee launched a war hero comic to complement his battalion of already successful super hero titles. Set in World War 11, SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS chronicled the adventures of a band of misfit Allied troops: brash, gung ho resourceful soldiers who never quit. The series ran 167 issues until December, 1981. Then in 1965, Lee and Kirby brought Fury into the present in STRANGE TALES # 135 as "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the leader of a top-secret U.S. government international intelligence agency. Cashing in on the popularity of James Bond and The Man from UNCLE, Fury primarily battled HYDRA, an international crime syndicate Intent on world domination, Marvel's answer to Bond's nemesis SPECTRE. Also like Bond, he had access to a vast array of technological gizmos from the laboratories of Stark Industries. The difference between Bond and Fury, however, was that Fury lacked 007's suave, cultured, tuxedo- wearing charm; under the bold penmanship of Jack Kirby or Jim Steranko, he was more Clint Eastwood-shoot first, "make my day," ask questions later. This aspect of the character always appealed to Chaykin.
"You want me to get sentimental?"
he asked with affable irony. "Sure, God, I love the guy. Hey its a comic
book character kids, I mean this is livelihood- not my life. Sorry"
In later years, Fury, who fought his battles with courage, instinct, skill, and futuristic gadgets, seemed to imbedded In the ranks of supporting cast of a Marvel .Universe dominated by super heroes and super-powered mutants, To keep himself from aging (a World War II hero, he I have to be at least 70), he has taken periodic injections the 'Infinity Formula,", a serum which slowed the process. It intrigued Chaykin that modern reality continued to be overlooked in that series. A late '80s/early '90s NICK FURY AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D, continually pitted Fury against yet another ex-Nazi villain, Baron Strucker.
Then several months ago Chaykin told then-Marvel in Chief Tom DeFalco that he was interested in exploring several Marvel characters which he felt could use a shot in the arm creatively. One was Nick Fury, and DeFalco jumped at the idea.
"I thought it would be fun," Chaykin said, noting that his motivations in returning to a monthly series were simple. "One of the things about the real world is (that) motivation Is often as obvious as we think (it is). I thought it would be an easy way to generate some Income and a fun character to do. I thought I would bring something to the character that other writers might not, and I wanted to work with Corcky. It so easy."
THE CHAYKIN CONNECTION
Chaykin has done Fury before, co-plotting, penning and inking with writer Jim Starlin on the MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #31 one-shot, providing artwork for the popular Scorpio Connection graphic novel and writing the Scorpio Rising special, both also featuring Wolverine, as well as writing an 8pg Christmas story called "Down Time" for the 1993 HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Chaykin is also penning an as-yet-untitled Nick Fury/ Captain America team-up graphic novel set for 1995, .penciled by Marvel UK stalwart Andrew Currie and inked by Industry veteran Tom Palmer. While this graphic novel does not directly tie In with ;either series, Chaykin allowed that it does have flavor, dealing with "an internal affairs incident in SHIELD in a post-Cold War world. "
For the monthly series, Chaykin submitted an outline which offered a S.H.I.E.L.D. far more likely to exist in the modern-day United States than in the Marvel Universe: 'S.H.I.E.L.D. is really down-sized, a much smaller organization, Much of the previous field agent group is replaced by an interactive use of the information superhighway. They're also running short of funds, so certainly throughout the first three issues they find themselves borrowing technology from Stark Industries, and In the issues to come we'll see them bartering information the way real agencies do, the way the FBI hates the CIA."
DeFalco asked him to suggest an artist and Chaykin requested Lehmkuhl, whose work he has supported since first meeting the crew-cut hardcore punk-rock teenager with a portfolio at the 1984 San Diego Comic Con. Lehmkuhl went on to become Chaykin's assistant, doing paste-ups and backgrounds on the second run of American Flagg, Black Kiss, and Scorpio Connection, among others.
"He's a very accomplished painter with a solid academic background who realized that all he was trained to do in school was to paint, starve, and make frames in an art supply store," Chaykin said. "So he decided to get back to work with what he had been involved with in the first place, and learn how to draw comic books. He draws in a very commercial, contemporary style, and he's getting better every issue. I just got the second issue today and it looks terrific."
"I went to college (UCLA) as an English major and didn't want to be a teacher, so I decided to start drawing again and reform my contacts," Lehmkuhl added, who has grown his hair and mellowed his musical tastes to more mainstream alternative bands like Fugazi and the Stone Temple Pilots. "So I called Howard, he looked at my stuff, and gave me this job."
Visually, both Chaykin and Lehmkuhl describe his artistic style as "Image-esque," just the kind of pick-me-up needed to make Fury's character more relevant to younger readers while Chaykin maintains the ironic sub-text to satisfy older Fury fans and readers in search of a little bit more meat. Thus, Lehmkuhl wanted not only to make Fury look younger, more in the style of '90s heroes-to make it easier for kids to empathize with the character-but also to simultaneously accent his gruff, hard-edged traditional look.
"All the renditions of the series I've seen in the past make (Fury) look old," he noted, "I wanted to give him longer hair and to lose the white-gray temples that have been so prominent with his character, so It would be easier for kids to identify with him. Instead of a father Figure, he's more of a brother. There are shots where the gray will be there, but his hair is longer."
"It's not a super hero comic in terms of super powers, but more of a cross between a good action/crime book and super heroes," he offered. "I have him with stubble all the time. I'd like to create the sensation that he's always on the edge, kind of erratic, and very moody. Nick has the same blueblack costume (designed by Steranko). I extrapolated from Jim Lee's take on Fury with a few gadgets on there." Indeed, injecting a cyberpunk flavor into the series, one of the gizmos that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been able to afford allows Fury to lose his eye-patch during field operations, replacing it with a new high technology headset that straps around the side of, his head over his ear and onto his eye socket. "It acts as a video monitor through which he can access information out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. computers," Lehmkuhl described. "It's like a cyber-deck on his head, so he can get a bunch of information at once while he's running around."
DeFalco selected Mariano Nicleza to be editor, Best known editorially for his work on leather-bound "Marvel Limited" special projects such as FANTASY FIRSTS and THE HULK FUTURE IMPERFECT, Niclezi coordinated the hiring of the rest of the creative team.
'What I did was take the ball and keep on rollin with it," Nicieza said. "I contacted Mark McKenna, ~ veteran in the industry for nine years, and brought him on board as inker. Then I contacted Tom Smit! who did some terrific coloring on The Hulk Future Imperfect and for the Marvel promotions department on the 2099 line. The letterer is the Richard Starkings studio[Comicraft], who also designed the logo."
Working with Marvel's marketing and sales department, Nicieza also dreamed up a unique and fun promotional contest to run through the first six issues of FURY, and set to wrap up in August of 1995 with the seventh issue-coincidentally Fury's 30th anniversary. "In the art of every issue, there are going to be hidden messages using a scrambled effect that's only very rarely been used in the mass market. In the anniversary Issue #7, a decoder is going to be included so readers will be able to unscramble the messages. Whoever answers the questions correctly will be entered for the grand prize."
While the prize will be announced for the first time in FURY #1, he added that the secret code would unlock "clues as to future adventures and secrets about Fury."
FOR HIS EYES ONLY
Stories will take place in three-issue story arcs, the meat of which Nicieza would like to keep under wraps until the reader bites into the first issue. All he would confirm about the first arc was that it would entail "a three-way race between S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, and mystery thieves to get hold of components that can be used to build a miniature thermonuclear device." According to Chaykin, the second arc will "center on international espionage and culminate In the American Southwest."
The supporting cast includes some long-time familiar faces from the Fury back story, such as "Val the Countess, with whom he has an on-again, off again romantic relationship, and Scorpio, his son, will play a major part in the series." Chaykin said he currently has no plans to include the Howling Commandos, but he was not willing to discount the possibility: "Not likely, but possibly. There's a possibility I might actually play some of them as retirees in the second arc."
Besides an all-new and unexpected villain in the story arc, a new woman will be around to cause trouble for Fury. Chaykin describes Beck Lockheart as a "government liaison and funder, sort dog robber, which is the military term for someone who provides her commanding officer supplies." As a congressional lobbyist representing S.H.I.E.L.D., Beck will be at the center of organization's funding problems. She's also a gorgeous blonde who hides an arm-to-shoulder length snake tattoo under her stylish but conservative business suits. Beck was a character that I really had fun designing,' Lehmkuhl said. "I had this idea for a tattoo and I wasn't going to get it, so she has a big cobra wrapped around her whole arm."
FURY will also feature periodic guest appearences by other Marvel characters. While plans to use Wolverine in the first story arc had to be postponed so as not to interfere with this spring's "Age of Apocalypse" X-MEN crossover, Iron Man/Tony Stark will appear-to the special thrill of Lehmkuhl, a big Iron Man fan. The tentative guest line-up for the second story arc (issues #3-6) includes Wolverine, Black Widow, and the Master of Kung Fu. "(FURY OF S.H.I.E.L.D.) is considered to be a mainstream Marvel book, so Fury will be interacting with Marvel characters, and events in the Marvel Universe will impact the series," Nicieza explained. Chaykin, however, noted that he did not want to do the standard Marvel mega-villains "who want to conquer the world, because what are you going to with it? You know what I'm saying. I want guys motivated by greed, revenge, envy, all the small petty details that make life really interesting."
"In fact, one thing that bothers him about most comic books is that the villains are always completely evil and the heroes completely honorable. There's no such thing as gray, which I think is a load of crap. I think that one of the ways that I differ from most comic book fans, and many comic book producers, is that I believe life is random, functionally chaotic, and has no real sense of purpose or justice."
Beyond the crime-fighting, the Marvel continuity, the effort to update the character, Chaykin has been noted for his sense of humor, his keen irony, and he promised that element would be the new series, too. "My feeling is that what makes a great book is comedy-what separates the dramatic junk from the interesting, serious, stuff. And the comedy can be anything from slapstick to black humor to puns and wordplay. I just that. I always do it, always get myself into trouble because the audience thinks that if it's not serious. It's not important."
Whether through humor or
action-packed artwork ,Chaykin and Lehmkuhl are determined to inject a real
anti-aging serum into Marvel's quintessential cross between James Bond and Dirty